Obsessed fan fails to put Hingis off her stride

Under the watchful eyes of an obsessed fan and a vigilant bodyguard, Martina Hingis calmly beat the American, Corina Morariu, 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday in the quarter-final of the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich, Switzerland.

Under the watchful eyes of an obsessed fan and a vigilant bodyguard, Martina Hingis calmly beat the American, Corina Morariu, 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday in the quarter-final of the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich, Switzerland.

The world No 1, who received several disturbing faxes from a fixated admirer, appeared unconcerned, coolly coming back from a 5-2 deficit in the opening set to take the victory.

Tournament organizers said that Hingis's entourage had called from Filderstadt last week, asking for security be stepped up after the five-time Grand Slam champion had received bizarre calls and faxes from a fan who was possibly stalking her.

Despite being confronted by a member of Hingis's entourage, asking him to stop calling, the man turned up to watch her play in Zurich.

The Women's Tennis Association confirmed that Zurich police had questioned the 42-year-old Yugoslavian man after he had appeared at a VIP desk on Tuesday requesting an interview with Hingis. Tournament organizers photographed him, distributing the pictures to security throughout the stadium.

"After Seles every tournament has to take precautions," said tournament spokesman Andre Glauser, referring to the nine-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles, who was stabbed in the neck by a disturbed Steffi Graf fan in Hamburg in 1993. "We are taking it seriously even if he has never threatened her."

Hingis appeared to take the situation in stride. "Since I've been number one, I always try to have someone with me: A tall and handsome guy," joked the Swiss star, the winner of seven tournaments this season. "Your name doesn't have to be Martina Hingis. As a girl in general, it's not always safe to walk around alone. But I feel safe in Switzerland. It's definitely the last country I would not feel safe in."

If Hingis was calm about her stalker, the second-seed Venus Williams was completely unaffected by her past feuds with Irina Spirlea, brushing her aside 6-3, 6-2 in a second round match.

It marked only the second time the two players had met since Spirlea purposely slammed into the young American during a changeover in the semi-finals of the 1997 US Open, prompting Williams' father to call the Romanian, "that big, tall, white turkey."

While the animosity between the two players has ebbed since their famous collision, there were still signs of insolence sailing back and forth over the net.

The most notable came when the towering Williams was leading 6-3, 5-1 and began to stretch as Spirlea was winding up to serve. Ending a hamstring stretch with a flashy set of splits on the court, Williams received resounding applause.Clearly irritated, Spirlea began to imitate the American, making exaggerated leg stretches in return.

"My hamstrings were feeling tired so I had to loosen the muscles," shrugged Williams, who lost the pair's last match after winning the controversial one at the U.S. Open. "She always shows what she feels. And when we started to do a few things on court, the public got involved, knowing what it was about."

It marked the only moment of interest for the small crowd, with Williams wrapping up the match in under an hour. It was an important win for Williams, appearing at the tournament without her parents for the first time.

With sister Serena and mother Oracene both back at home studying, Williams was accompanied only by her trainer and hitting partner.

"I was a bit sad," said Williams, the winner of five tournaments this season, capturing titles in Oklahoma City, Lipton, Hamburg, Rome and New Haven. "I felt a little bit incomplete.

"Before the match I wanted to talk to them but with the time difference I couldn't reach them and I had to leave a message on the machine," she said. "I was glad to see I could play well even if they aren't here."

In other second round action, the third-seed Mary Pierce of France, beat the American, Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-2.

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